In a “Background” interview with RTL on Saturday 25 November, the first subject was naturally how to improve mobility in a country that is plagued by constant traffic jams.
François Bausch, the Green transport minister, started off by saying that the country had experienced an unprecedented rise in its population over the past decade, combined with a huge increase of cross-border commuters. The previous governments had missed an opportunity to prepare the country adequately. He said: “we cannot continue like this” and urged for a rethinking of economic growth.
Claude Wiseler, the CSV lead candidate, was minister for the civil service and of public works from 2004 to 2009, and from 2009 to 2013 minister for sustainable development and infrastructure. He countered that previous governments had actually spent approximately the same percentages of GDP on investments as the current government. During the 2007/2008 crises he had fought hard to keep investments high. The problem was that infrastructure cannot keep up with the current growth in population.
He argued that:
“How to manage this is the essential problem in current politics.”
Bausch agreed, and said that the current numbers of demographic growth were alarming. It was not enough to build more infrastructure, but discussions about fundamental questions of economic growth were necessary to face the future.
Transport and mobility
Both politicians seemed broadly in agreement on the need to extend and modernise the offer of public transport.
Bausch hinted that Wiseler had been stunted in his actions as minister on several projects, such as the tram, both internally and within parliament. Wiseler agreed that he had to convince everyone that the tram should be built, but criticised that the current plans were only adequate for 700,000 people, and warned that Bausch’s upcoming plan for urban development, that will come out next year, was absolutely necessary.
Bausch mentioned that the national railway CFL would increase its seating capacity from 9,000 to 17,000 by the 2023. Gradually, the situation would improve with the opening of Pfaffenthal station and the tram running on Kirchberg in December. Wiseler pointed out the CSV had voted in favour of all these projects.
There was a small disagreement when it came to the proposed extension to three lanes of the A3 motorway.
Bausch had suggested previously that they be reserved to buses. Wiseler stated his party could not agree to that, and Bausch floated the idea of opening it to car-sharing as well.
Bausch said the biggest problem was cross-border commuters who use their car alone. They would be the target for the new car-sharing app. It would be launched in February 2018 and would include a tracker of cars, like Uber, and would allow people to pick a ride. He added that the government plans to include a financial incentive, financed through the Climate Fund, for users. Wiseler welcomed the idea, and suggested to open the hard shoulder lane to buses at peak times.
Both Bausch and Wiseler rejected ideas for penalising the use of cars (through higher car taxes) as long as the offer had not been improved.
Wiseler insisted that every country needed certain levels of growth. The problem was that the recent growth levels were based on demographic growth, not productivity growth--a statement that echoed previous findings by the Chamber of Commerce and the Court of Auditors.
The CSV opposition leader criticised (again) the 2018 draft budget and multiannual financial framework was based on projections for 700,000 residents, not 1.2 million as current growth projections predict by 2060. He “reproached” the finance minister that the budget allowed for a deficit of -0.5% deficit over the coming years, calling it “irresponsible and not realistic.” Wiseler said there will certainly come a crisis over the next few years and a small, open economy like Luxembourg could not make it then.
The CSV lead candidate then repeated the argument, put forward by the National Council on Public Finances (CNFP) that the funding for the current social security system (and for pensions) was also based entirely on these population growth projections, and risked being unsustainable.
He called for more political discussions to stop the population growth and come up with a different economic model.
Bausch countered that he preferred projections over ten years, which were more probable. He added that:
“we must avoid having thousands of cross-border workers.”
He linked this back to the mobility problems, but also to the growth model and the questions that need to be answered in terms of urban planning and development. The minister said that jobs should be located close to urban centres. “Work must be created on axes where we created infrastructure and in urban areas,” Bausch said. Examples would be Belval, Schifflange, Esch-sur-Alzette, the Nordstad (Ettelbruck-Diekirch axis) and around Clervaux.
Wiseler countered that rural villages must also be given growth perspectives, and that the north was neglected in the urban development plan.
Working from home and co-working spaces
While Bausch argued that co-working spaces should be built at the borders, which could also alleviate traffic, Wiseler countered that many people could not do their job remotely, and that it would not have such a big impact as the government expected it to.
Coalition in 2018?
After all these relatively good-humoured exchanges, it was no surprise that both Bausch and Wiseler indicated their readiness to talk to “any of the four parties” if the elections produced favourable results for their party, and if party programmes would allow for this. These four parties are the mainstream parties (CSV, Greens, LSAP, DP) and exclude Déi Lénk and ADR, who are both on opposite ends of the political spectrum represented in parliament.
Previously, the current Gambia coalition (of the DP, LSAP and Greens) had announced their intention to form a government again if they got enough votes.